Mike McDonell


Mike McDonell served as supply and logistics officer for Headquarters, Eleventh Marines, and as a duty officer and patrol leader with the First Marine Division’s Northern Sector Defense Command from 1967-1968 in I Corps. He retired after thirty-four years of Federal service as a writer/editor and public information specialist.  Mike lives with his wife Suellen and spends his time teaching, traveling and writing. Mike is co-founder of the Memorial Day Writers’ Project.


From the Wall


Xin Loy, Charlie

No sweat, buddy

Miss you, honey

Love you, Mom

Guess I’ll never catch up with you, Dad

Guess I’ll always be nineteen


Heard the one about the Grunt and the NVA?

Grunt was sitting in his hole,

watching tracers stitch the dark

in red and green over the roar of incoming

and outgoing


Grub yelled “Ho Chi Minh is a son of a bitch”

and not very far away a voice replied:

“LBJ is a running dog’s bastard”

That’s not all: the next day they find

the grunt and the NVA dead

in the middle of the road

locked in a bear-hug

and grinning at the magic moment

that the deuce and a half rolled over them,

at the very moment of their agreement

and celebration well before the pin-heads

and cookie-pushers had settled on the shape

of the negotiating table


True war story: circa 1967-68

First Marine Division TAOR I Corps RVN

It may have happened on the Cua Viet

or at the mouth of the A Shau

the Hai Van or the Dinh Ban Passes come to mind

or maybe it was Nui Loc Son in April during the Union

or a month later during Union II

but it sure as hell happened at Tet of 68

when the Fifth took Hue and the boys on both sides

took shit at Khe Sanh


Truth be told, it might have even happened to a doggie

in Cholon by the race track (just him and Nguyen)

or an airman, or a sailor, or a nurse

Could have been a Donut Dolly

and all her counterparts,

they all had names like Van, and Tran, and Trung,

and Nam but only the Ghost Gunny knows for sure

and he’s not talking any more today.

But maybe tonight...

Spade Cooley’s Zap-Momma


Spade Cooley was draped across an Okinawa O Club divan,

his left leg in a dirty cast from his crotch to his toes,

and around his neck was tied a sweat-rag,

its checkered pattern faintly seen through caked black.


Hey, man, its been a while since Quantico

with the Zoomer and the guys.

Like the tie?  How you been?

Me, I’m surviving; waiting to sky--

I di-di in the morning,

back Stateside to Oaknoll

so they can work some more on my laig.

Caught some north of Con Thien,

got some on “Operation Buffalo;”

that’s what they call it.

We called it “The Three Gates of Hell.”


It started as a patrol--

battalion size, one-nine.

That was my home-- First Battalion, Ninth Marines.

We were north of the Trace

on the Z at a spot they called The Market Place.

They ambushed us,

the company,

and the whole battalion.

Why we call it Three Gates of Hell?

‘Cause we fought to get in,

we got ambushed again and again,

and we fought to get out

and they wouldn’t let us, man.


We left the dead and came on back for them

with tanks

and they fell on us like rabid dogs;

they walked among us wounded

and popped us like ticks.

We exploded in blood

but we got some, too:

dig two graves--

one for him

and one for you.

Don’t mind if I do!

Mine’s a Stinger--

cool menthol going down,

then exploding brandy

on an empty stomach.

Fire for effect, man.

All I need’s a Thai stick

to finish the job.


Attention on deck!

The Officer of the Day

regrets to report

that Major General Bruno Hochmuth,

Commanding General, 3rd Marine Division,

was killed in action when his Huey

exploded in mid-air today.


Bet the pogues in graves

had fun getting him out of that

rotary bladed C-rat can

and ready for his flight home.

He should have been with us;

on line under the sun,

pushing out into the fields

of hard-packed brown and yellow stubble

towards the tree line and the hedgerow

where the bodies of our bros

lay scattered and bloated--

made in the shade,

but out of the sun.


Nguyen knew that we were coming

and when we squad-rushed forward,

he opened up and we went down,

digging deep with fingers, toes and chin

as deep as we could go

which wasn’t far enough

‘cause most of us were hit or dead before we fell.

I saw the one that got me--

actually, there were two.

A short AK burst from the crotch of an old banyan

missed the femoral but got the femur,

shattered it in two and put one through my knee-cap

as clean as a b-b through thin plate glass.


I lay there playing ‘possum  with a dead-man’s stare

while the sing-song boys laughed and giggled

and shot the wounded.  I heard our screams

and moans cut short with a shot and heard

the bark of their officers and sergeants

ordering them forward, towards another

slaughter beyond our field.


I never took my dusty eyes off that banyan;

I saw the khaki figure slide down its trunk,

while the comrades pushed though the hedgerow behind me

and left me in silence feigning death.

Trotting toward me at carry-arms,

the figure was gracefully dodging the bodies

and making straight for me.

I saw the eyes; they saw mine.

They were not fooled.


And as the AK went from carry to assault,

I rolled and stitched the torso in red roses

and saw the long, black and shining hair

splayed in the sunlight, in the moment that lasts

forever, and above the eyes wide with wonder

and the round mouth yawning in surprise.


She went down hard, without a sound,

and in her hand, a black checked sweat-rag

which I tied around my leg to staunch the flow.

I watched her go. Now she lives in me

and I’ll carry her just as she would have

carried me.


Stingers dripping from my cast,

oozing coolness.  Sure, I’ll lose the leg

but not here!  I’ll wait for Oaknoll  

and join the crippled vets and live in Georgia

and think of her and how no woman ever

touched me like she did, and how she binds

and stanches the flow.


Like her black checked sweat-rag

dark with blood, she will live at the bottom

of my seabag memory.  And rising up

in nightsweats, I’ll remember

and she will live: my killer angel,

Co Zip

Zap Momma.


We’ll dance the two-step

in fields of fire

and join the others,

the Walking Dead,

and live in now

and live in then;

I live in dread

of God.

Another Stinger?                                




I saw their names in concrete before ours were

carved in stone:  Arnaud et Ugette

un marriage splendide— porquois?

Sait on jamais (one never knows)



The French bunkers lay like ancient boils

on either side of the Hoa Khan pass,

excised and pockmarked, burned

and defiled by men and monkeys.

Tigers ate them both,

or what was left,

after battles in the dark

between the primates.

Monkeys and Frenchmen

tasted very much the same.

In the dark

there was no difference,

only dinner.


Danny and Rhonda

together forever.

Peace and love

Alpha 1/5/1967.


Sait on jamais,

one never knows,

no difference,

only dinner.


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